A longer-than-usual post and not my usual subject matter either . . . but important.
On July 20, 1969, the day of the historic US walk on the moon, I was 18 and working at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. On my dinner break I watched the event on a large screen set up somewhere in Tomorrowland.
Actually, I grew up in Anaheim with Disneyland almost in our backyard, just a 10-minute drive away, close enough to see the highest of the fireworks as they exploded over Cinderella’s castle every night at 9 o’clock sharp.
Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in 1955, and my parents and I visited soon after. Here I am in January 1956, with my mom on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride.
As I grew up, the park did too. A trip to Disneyland always meant magical fun.
Costumes and cast members
Because of the moon walk’s fiftieth anniversary last weekend, I’ve been reminiscing.
Back then I didn’t recognize or appreciate the perfect execution the lunar mission required to be a success. But I did know a little something about the standards and execution required to create the magic of the Magic Kingdom.
College students coveted working at Disney. I longed to be a tour guide or ride operator, but I gladly accepted cashiering positions, first at the Plaza Pavilion restaurant and later at the Emporium gift shop, both on Main Street.
Disneyland employees (always called cast members) received freshly washed and pressed costumes (never called uniforms) every day. At the Emporium we wore pastel Victorian-style blouses tucked into floor-length fit-and-flare skirts.
After changing out of street clothes and putting on my costume in the cast members’ building off the parking lot, I walked across a large open area called the berm toward a door in the high fence that bordered the back of Main Street attractions. Disneyland’s Main Street (unlike Disney World’s) is built to three-quarter scale, creating the sensation of entering another world as well as another time. Walking through that door always emphasized the magic for me.
From Main Street to Tomorrowland, from It’s a Small World to Pirates of the Caribbean, every land and attraction featured carefully crafted details. A legion of roaming custodians unobtrusively swept up any trash anywhere in the park as fast as it hit the ground. And at night, painters searched for scratches and nicks and touched up every surface.
Walt Disney called Disneyland the happiest place on earth, and like Mary Poppins, it was practically perfect in every way.
So what does all this have to do with Jesus?
In the US—and in any other country whose citizens are blessed with voice and vote in how their government will run—the challenge for followers of Jesus is taller than Disneyland’s iconic Matterhorn. We can’t help evaluating, even judging, the opinions of other believers—and it’s a sure bet we don’t agree with them all. But agreement isn’t the challenge. The attitude of our hearts is the challenge, because the bent of our hearts determines our words and our actions.
Jesus tells us that if His followers love one another, the world will know we’re His disciples. Letters in the New Testament from Paul and others repeat this theme again and again. How we treat one another matters. Unity and love among believers show Christ to the world, whether we’re worshiping together, assisting those in need, or discussing the President online.
It’s not wrong to be concerned about the behavior of other believers. Jesus called out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and the crowds for their spiritual apathy. Paul chastised Peter publicly when Peter had second thoughts about associating with Gentile Christians. Paul told Timothy his first response toward others’ sin should be to encourage rather than to rebuke: “an older man . . . as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). James commended bringing wandering believers back onto the way of truth.
But we also have this from Jesus: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3).
So we each have to decide if, when, and how to speak up, and most important, the attitude of our heart—the why.
Believe me, I am preaching to myself here. It’s easy to simply avoid the people I disagree with and think I’ve got having a right attitude covered.
As forgiven and beloved children of God, we’re told to put off sin and put on the attitudes and actions of righteousness. It’s a process. Following the Spirit and obeying the Word, we progress toward the goal of becoming mature children of our Father, longing for the day when we will be completely made into the image of His Son.
Until then, unlike stepping into the practically perfect Magic Kingdom for a day, taking the road marked discipleship means a long ride, and we’re all only on our way.